Books at fingertips, eBooks at twenty paces
THERE are two kinds of people in this mad old world of ours: shopaholics and, frightfully, boring spendthrifts who probably get a lot further in life with their penny-pinching ways but certainly are about as much fun as a mouldy loaf of bread.
As you may have guessed, I confess to falling into the category of people who spend money with all the restraint and class of a teenage girl at the mall with a gaggle of equally hyperactive classmates - and her daddy's credit card.
And my poison of choice has always been books.
Once I got my first paid job - working at the noble art of trolley collecting - I discovered the joy of spending with reckless abandon.
I soon found, though, that only two kinds of shop could convince me to part with the money I had labored for by pushing trolleys up the steep and winding ramp at my local Woolies - record shops and book stores.
As a confessed book-aholic, the digital entertainment revolution has brought mixed blessings.
I can now easily find copies of the most rare books at the click of a mouse.
On the other hand, I have witnessed the closure of many of my favourite book stores.
I can no longer spend hours poring through the shelves of three-storey book stores that only encourage my lazy browsings by operating a coffee shop in the store's heart.
And while I certainly love being able to download a book long out of print, an e-book doesn't give me the feel and smell of a bright, new paperback.
But there are many reasons to dip your toe in the waters of e-reading - including easy access to thousands of cheap, rare or even free books.
And the price entry point to e-reading has never been cheaper.
If you're contemplating entry into the world of e-readers, I recommend the Kobo e-Reader Mini - which I picked up for just $50 at JB Hi-Fi.
It weighs a little more than 100g, lasts a month off one battery charge and stores a cool 1000 or so books.
And reading it is quite close to the real thing.
The ink display does not distort or reflect in any light.
You turn the page by tapping the right of the screen or running your finger across the screen.
Stocking your e-library is a cinch - you can download books from the internet wherever there is wi-fi available.
On a sour note, most e-readers' screens are nowhere near as responsive as a good tablet or iPhone.
I note, though, that the more expensive e-readers start to blur the line between e-reader and tablet.
So if you have a few hundred to spend and want a quality device, do you look for a feature-packed e-reader or are you better off with a tablet?
If you want a device that gives you the closest experience to reading paperbacks, you want an e-reader.
E-readers boast superior readability, due to their electronic paper technology.
If, however, you want a multi-purpose device that you can use to read, store songs, browse the net, watch video or take photos, a tablet is a much better option.
And the best quality tablets - such as the market-leading iPad - also make excellent e-readers.
The iPad's ink display, in particular, is beautifully crisp and the touch screen is delightfully responsive.
I spent a month checking out e-readers, tablets and e-book websites, and made the following, highly subjective, findings.
And the best in breed are ...
Best all rounder
iPad mini (from $369): More portable than an iPad and much easier to hold in bed, the iPad mini boasts all the features of its big brother but at half the size. The only thing e-readers have over the iPad mini is that the mini is harder to read in direct sunlight because of its reflective-glass screen.
Best platform for reading newspapers and magazines and colour books
iPad (from $429): Its crisp display, responsive touch screen and easy-to-navigate library and iBooks store has the iPad threatening the future of stand-alone e-readers. A perfect platform for newspapers and magazines. Navigating pages, zooming in or out and clicking on articles or ads of interest makes magazines and newspapers look passe.
Best portable e-reader
Kobo eReader Mini: (RRP $99. JBs had it on sale for $50) Light, easy to use and read, and you won't cry too much if it gets broken by careless luggage handlers.
Best reading experience
Paperback: You still can't beat the original for pure reading pleasure
Best e-reader shop
All mainstream Australian e-book sites are disappointingly expensive. But I found iBooks had a better range, more free e-books and better bargains than the others.
Your library of books can be synched to several devices, meaning you can lie in bed, reading your iPad Mini, then open the same book on your iPhone at the doctor's.
Your book will even open to the last page you were reading on any device.
I also found the iBooks app easily the most reader friendly for navigating, making notes and highlighting.